Special Report

A Paradise Mandated by Government

National Geographic has found it in maternal-care Slovenia. So what's that little country's birthrate?

By 7.25.07

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The level of government provided goodies is always the sign of a carrying, enlightened country, right? That's the view of a lot of people around the world, including many, if not most, American Democrats. And it is certainly the view of most of the members of the mainstream media. I was reminded of this while recently reading, of all things, the August issue of National Geographic.

A short, one page piece (for some unknown reason classified under the headline "Geography") entitled "Who Gives Parents a Break?" concludes, "American moms-to-be might consider a move to Slovenia." Why? Because as an accompanying map shows, the United States is nearly alone in not having government-mandated paid maternity leave. The article also provides the opinion of a Canadian "social policy expert" that the U.S. "could definitely do better."

Well, the fact is American mothers-to-be aren't fleeing to Slovenia or any other countries that National Geographic finds more enlightened because the U.S. offers much more than government-mandated paid maternity leave -- namely personal freedom and economic opportunity. Americans have traditionally valued freedom, including economic freedom, more than have the citizens of other nations. It's part of our contribution to world cultural diversity. And valuing freedom has served Americans well.

Government provided goods (in this case in the form of an employer mandate) are not always a societal benefit. Advocates of government-mandated paid maternity leave apparently just assume that businesses can afford to give 14 or 52 weeks of paid maternity leave with no negative impact on how businesses are able to operate, including how many people they can employ, and at what wages, and how they may view female job applicants of child-bearing age. And there is apparently no consideration of what the proper relationship between government and private employers should be in a free society. It certainly is an oddity that in today's PC world, encouraging mothers to stay at home to raise their children is sexist and oppressive, but encouraging mothers to stay at home to raise their children by forcing employers to pay them to do so is considered socially enlightened.

And when one looks at the fertility rates in places like Europe and Canada, as Mark Steyn has done in America Alone and in many of his columns, you have to wonder what the benefits of these liberal paid maternity leave policies are. They certainly don't seem to encourage couples to have more children. In 2002, for instance, in the supposedly family unfriendly United States, the fertility rate was 2.11 children per couple, or just about at the replacement rate. In Canada it was 1.48; in Russia it was 1.14; and the EU average was a mere 1.38.

National Geographic can chastise the U.S. if they like for being behind the rest of the world in forcing private employers to be an extension of the welfare state. I, however, don't see that as a problem, and I'm more concerned by the fact that the rest of the world is so far behind the United States in providing economic liberty -- and the resultant economic opportunities -- to its people. But will I ever see a map in the "Geography" section of National Geographic praising those nations with the highest amount of economic freedom (and necessarily the least intrusive welfare states)? What do you think?

WHEN IT COMES TO GOVERNMENT-MANDATED paid maternity leave (of up to 52 weeks), you may not be surprised to learn that countries like Russia, and China, and (as the author especially notes) Cuba, "score high" in this peculiar gauge of societal advancement. Well, that should be an immediate tip-off that government-mandated paid maternity leave isn't necessarily a wonderful thing. If it's perfectly compatible with repressive and totalitarian governing structures, perhaps it's not all that conducive to preserving a culture of personal, economic, and political freedom.

This reminds me of one of my enlightening experiences in college. I had noted that many of the scribblings on the blackboard from a class prior to mine looked rather interesting, so I came early one day and sat in on the lecture that preceded mine. It turned out to be a sociology class. And in this particular lecture, the professor argued that one good measure of how just a society is is the economic disparity between ethnic minorities and the majority group. And, of course, he noted that in the Soviet Union, this disparity was relatively small, especially in comparison to the United States. This was 1982 or 1983. How he thought he had reliable data to make this comparison, or how he viewed the economic disparity between government cronies and everyone else, or how the mass murder of various groups in the Soviet paradise played into his calculus, was and is an unexplained mystery.

Although the sociology professor's judgment was not an uncommon one in academe, most elected members of the Democratic Party would never have called the Soviet Union a more just society than the United States. Nonetheless, a majority of the Democratic leadership certainly holds the view that expanding the welfare state is unquestionably good. With Democrats in charge of Congress, and making a strong run at the White House next year, we will undoubtedly be hearing a lot more from Democrats about how they will use government to "improve" our lives. And don't be surprised if National Geographic's focus on government-mandated paid maternity leave isn't a precursor to what we will be hearing over the next year from Democratic leaders.

Remember four years ago when Dr. Howard Dean was wrangling for the Democratic presidential nomination? He argued strenuously that if they have nationalized health care in Europe and Canada, then by gum we should have it here. It didn't seem to matter that nationalized health care doesn't work too well. The main point was that we were behind the rest of the world in providing a government handout.

Just as you don't see American mothers-to-be fleeing to Slovenia, you don't see a lot of Americans fleeing to other countries to take advantage of their health care systems. It is quite the opposite, in fact. Sure, you see Americans going to Canada to take advantage of cheaper prescription drugs, courtesy of the Canadian government. But it is wise to keep in mind that most of those drugs aren't developed in Canada or Europe but in the United States. The rest of the world had better be hoping we don't follow its lead when it comes to health care, or there simply won't be many more advancements in drug design, diagnostics, or treatments.

Americans shouldn't be as quick as National Geographic or Howard Dean in unfavorably comparing the United States to the rest of the world by virtue of the fact that our welfare state isn't quite as robust as those in other parts of the world. Instead we should take comfort knowing that our economy is much more healthy and robust compared to most of the rest of the world, and we enjoy a lot more personal liberty to boot. That may not mean a lot to National Geographic or some members of the Democratic leadership, but it should.

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About the Author
Brandon Crocker is the chief financial officer of a commercial real estate development and management company in San Diego.